|Linux kernel getting a livepatch whilst running a marathon. Generated with AI.
Livepatch service eliminates the need for unplanned maintenance windows for high and critical severity kernel vulnerabilities by patching the Linux kernel while the system runs. Originally the service launched in 2016 with just a single kernel flavour supported.
Over the years, additional kernels were added: new LTS releases, ESM kernels, Public Cloud kernels, and most recently HWE kernels too.
Recently livepatch support was expanded for FIPS compliant kernels, Public cloud FIPS compliant kernels, and as well IBM Z (mainframe) kernels. Bringing the total of kernel flavours support to over 60 distinct kernel flavours supported in parallel. The table of supported kernels in the documentation lists the supported kernel flavours ABIs, the duration of individual build's support window, supported architectures, and the Ubuntu release. This work was only possible thanks to the collaboration with the Ubuntu Certified Public Cloud team, engineers at IBM for IBM Z (s390x) support, Ubuntu Pro team, Livepatch server & client teams.
It is a great milestone, and I personally enjoy seeing the non-intrusive popup on my Ubuntu Desktop that a kernel livepatch was applied to my running system. I do enable Ubuntu Pro on my personal laptop thanks to the free Ubuntu Pro subscription for individuals.
What's next? The next frontier is supporting ARM64 kernels. The Canonical kernel team has completed the gap analysis to start supporting Livepatch Service for ARM64. Upstream Linux requires development work on the consistency model to fully support livepatch on ARM64 processors. Livepatch code changes are applied on a per-task basis, when the task is deemed safe to switch over. This safety check depends mostly on kernel stacktraces. For these checks, CONFIG_HAVE_RELIABLE_STACKTRACE needs to be available in the upstream ARM64 kernel. (see The Linux Kernel Documentation). There are preliminary patches that enable reliable stacktraces on ARM64, however these turned out to be problematic as there are lots of fix revisions that came after the initial patchset that AWS ships with 5.10. This is a call for help from any interested parties. If you have engineering resources and are interested in bringing Livepatch Service to your ARM64 platforms, please reach out to the Canonical Kernel team on the public Ubuntu Matrix, Discourse, and mailing list. If you want to chat in person, see you at FOSDEM next weekend.